We have been back from the Island just over a week now, it was an action packed adventure week catching up with various friends in a stunning part of BC. I would like to share with you one part of our time on the Island, our summit of Mc Bride in Strathcona provincial park.
Matt and I went to the park to catch up with Nicki and Chris and to have a mini hiking mountainous adventure. The plan was to head up McBride, the 7th highest mountain in Strathcona park, we were also joined by Kyle who worked with Nicki and Chris.
There was some chat the night before we left about whether or not we should take axes and crampons, we were aware there would be snow up there but how much and what condition it was in wasn’t known to us. We got some inside info off people who had run up it fairly recently and they assured us we wouldn’t need tools, which I was happy with, a lot less to carry. This may seem like a bit of irrelevant detail now but it will make sense later on in my story.
We packed the morning of the day we were due to depart, we planned to do the hike over 3 days so there was quite a bit of food to sort out. We were also hoping to stay in a bothy but took tents just in case there wasn’t space. By the time everything was loaded into cars and we arrived at our launch point around 2pm.
To start the trail we first had to get there by canoe. This was the only way to access the trail head, it wasn’t a long paddle but it was a beautiful one across Strathcona lake.
The hike up to the bothy was a gruelling hike up 62 switchbacks (according to Chris counting them on the map), 1200 meters of height gain over 6 km. I will admit now that some of my timings and distances may be out, I wasn’t wearing a watch and I didn’t spend much time looking at the map, so I am going of what I can remember being said or how long it felt at the time.
I know that we started the hike around 3pm, there were a lot of switchbacks, Chris gave up counting at 50ish and there were more than 12 after that point. It was a good leg burning, lung engaging hike up through the forest. In places there were fallen logs which had to be navigated.
There were also a ridiculous number of mosquitos, Matt (who is mildly allergic to them) and Nicki in particular were targeted which left the rest of us to frolic freely through the woods almost untouched. However infuriating the bugs were, it was all worth it for the amazing view we found at the top.
We were now in Marble Meadow, an undulating plateau with lakes, flowers, trees and amazing views of the mountains of Strathcona Park.
This next section of our hike felt like it took a lot longer than it should have, we were not that far from the bothy. However due to a combination of multiple photo taking and snow covering the trail making route finding hard, we didn’t arrive at the bothy till 9pm. I believe we had to cross the plateau for 2 to 3 km to reach the bothy and it took us 3 hours. Chris and Kyle did the lions share of the navigating during our trip and it was no easy task given that most of the time the trail was covered and we were relying on cairn spotting. Chris had gps navigation on his phone which we relied on heavily.
Despite taking a while to get to the bothy we were in good spirits and ready to cook a good meal, have a good night's sleep then tackle the Mc Bride Summit. When we arrived at the bothy it was already occupied by 2 other people but there was still plenty of space for the 5 of us.
On chatting to the two occupants I became a bit concerned, I had noticed already that they had axe, crampons and helmet each so I asked what they had done and how they had got on. I was hoping for them to describe some gnarly route up a peak we weren’t going near but instead I heard the story of their failed attempt at McBride. It had taken them 8 hours to reach the South West Col and they had needed their ice axes to get that far, once there they had turned around. In total they had been out for 11 hours.
From the Bothy the summit was a round trip of 1500 meters of accent and 17 Km (this is what I read in a guide book before we left) and that you need to allow 12 hrs to get to the summit and back. The Col should only have taken them 3 to 4 hours to reach, not 8, so you can see my concern. We decided that we would make an attempt either way and if we got to a stage we should have axes and crampons then we would just have to turn around, such is the way of summit chasing.
By the time we left the next morning I was feeling less worried, the couple had left very early to get back to the lake and just the way they were packing up that morning I realised that one of them had almost no experience of being in a mountainous environment. I won’t go into details of exactly what happened but the whole situation became a bit of a running joke during the rest of trip. However we all have to start somewhere so it would be rude to go into detail and I hope their future attempts in the mountains are more successful, the more people that appreciate our natural environments the more likely it is that they will be protected.
We set out sometime around 8am and crossed the rest of Marble Meadows. It was again another challenge of route finding but we were rested, fueled and keen to make the summit. We reached the South West Col in 3 hours. During this time we had been able to see the summit of McBride in the near distance but due to terrain you can’t walk straight at it, you have to skirt a big valley that sits in front of it. We were also very happy to make it there without once feeling the need of crampons or axe.
From the Col there are 2 options to the summit, a class 3 scramble (grade 1-2 scramble UK terms) up the ridge or the hikers route around the back. We decided to try the ridge route first as it seemed more direct. We got a decent way up before we had to bail on this, the rock was very loose, we didn’t have helmets and we came to a section that we were struggling to navigate up safely.
Luckily we didn’t have to retreat down, we could just skirt around back to the hikers trail. It wasn’t easy but we didn’t lose any height. Once round the back of the mountain it was just a case of picking our way over stone and snow to the summit. There were the classic false summit moments, ‘that’s it I can see it, wait no, it’s not that one, must be the next’. McBride actually has two summit cairns along its’ ridge, one marks the 2080 meter contour and the other marks the 2081 meter spot height. We went to the spot height.
Cue much photo taking, writing in the summit log book and general joy at the reaching the top and the stunning views all around us. I think it took us 6 hours to reach the summit including our scramble attempt.
We had a very yummy lunch with us, organised by Nicki and after our tummies were full we started our return to the bothy. This was soo much fun, all soft snow that we had come up on the way up we could now slide down very quickly. We mostly tried to slide up right on our feet, each with our own technique. It wasn’t always successful but it was a lot fun.
Even with the snow sliding it still took another 4 to 5 hours to return to the bothy. Not all the up was in getting to the summit, there was still some up to do on the return journey. The bothy was at 1600 meters and the summit was at 2081 meters but we did 1500 meters of ascent in the round trip. The weather came in for a while and it made the mountains around us even more atmospheric.
That night we ate more great food, played cards and fell asleep to the mice residents of the hut scuttling around us.
The way down was less strenuous but still tiring, switch back after switch back. The heat increased as we reached the valley floor and it was a nice treat to put our feet into the cold stream that flows into the lake. For a fleeting moment I was tempted to swim across the lake but it would have taken far longer than canoeing across it.
So our successful ascent of McBride came to an end.
Big thank you to Nicki, Chris and Kyle who did all the leg work for getting the trip off the ground, Matt and I just came along for the adventure.
We sadly had to catch a ferry that day to the mainland but after seeing all the other possible mountains in Strathcona park we are very keen to come back later and do more. The Golden Hind in particular is on my hit list, it just looked awesome.